Welcome to yet another edition of "Too Broke to Buy Groceries." (Sort of sounds like a country song...)
What a week! I worked almost 50 hours, ran my very first 5k, and lost out on an incredible amount of sleep. But, today was my day off, and I think I'm almost caught up. Almost.
Anyhow, part of the inspiration for this blog was that Jennie (the Officer) had expressed the need for healthy recipes that were not only quick and easy, but cheap. Enter Deanna, the starving college student! I know all about eating on the cheap. In fact, I haven't bought groceries for weeks now (again) and I'm still coming up with food to eat somehow. It's all about giving in and working with the stuff hanging out in your pantry that you forgot you had/don't know what to do with/don't actually care for, but you're desperate for nourishment.
The salad is the result of using what I already had on hand. I used couscous- a small, pearl-shaped pasta- because that's what I had, but this dish would be equally wonderful with macaroni, shells, or other small pasta. Same goes for the other ingredients. If you don't have red wine vinegar, use whatever you have on hand (although balsamic vinegar may be too pungent for this dish). Ditto on the mustard- if you only have regular yellow mustard, use that. It's only a teaspoon, it'll be fine. Live on the edge!
I do not have a substitute for the hoisin sauce, though. That's where all the flavor comes from. And really, it's an excellent investment. Hoisin sauce is like Chinese barbeque sauce and it's awesome. I've dipped Gardein chicken strips in it and it was life changing. Really, it's that good. And for only a couple of bucks, you can get it at most stores without having to make a special trip to an Asian market. Just check the ethnic aisle.
So the salad is tangy, smoky, and slightly spicy. I would have eaten it hot, and you can feel free to, but it was like 85+ in my kitchen at the time I was making this, so I thought it may be more refreshing cold. Plus, it's officially summer! What better way to welcome it in than with a (slightly-out-of-the-ordinary) pasta salad?!
5 cups water
1 1/2 cup Israeli couscous (this is bigger than regular couscous; I would recommend using this type)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp Chinese 5-spice*
Pinch of cayenne
1 lb frozen mixed vegetables (I used "stir-fry mix" which had broccoli, carrots, red pepper, water chestnuts, etc.)
In a medium-sized saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Add couscous and cook at a rolling boil for 8 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Return to pan (off heat) and stir in the olive oil. Set aside.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the hoisin sauce, vinegar, soy sauce, mustard, garlic, 5-spice, and cayenne, until well blended. Set aside for a sec.
In a medium or large sauce pan, lightly saute veggies. It should only take 5-6 minutes. You want them to not be frozen, but not cooked through so that they're mushy. Use your best judgement.
When veggies are done, remove from heat and stir in the sauce. Stir to coat all veggies. Now add in the couscous and stir to combine well. Cover and refrigerate 2 hours or overnight.
*About Chinese 5-spice: This should be easy to find, also. It's a blend of cinnamon, fennel, cloves, star anise, and white pepper. Check out your local health food store. They often have spices in bulk that you can get for super cheap, since you're not paying for packaging and you can buy as much or as little as you want.
**By the way, if I had actually bought all the ingredients I needed for this today, I would guess that this salad cost $10 or less (if you use regular pasta instead of couscous). And it looks like it could feed about 6 people. That's a good deal!